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Doorstop after speech at National Farmers' Federation, Canberra, 19 November 1996: transcript [John Langmore, Sale of Telstra, Fraser by-election]


JOURNALIST: You mentioned the relationship between the NFF and the Government in there. Do you think the NFF has been a bit a loath to criticise the Government in the last few months?

BEAZLEY: Well, I do think there are a number of things that this Government has done that are worthy of criticism. They have shamefully neglected regional Australia. They've made important programs to rural Australia hostage to the sale of Telstra instead of having them come out of consolidated revenue in normal appropriation bills, and their sale of Telstra, I don't think, is in ... whoever else it's interested in, it's not in the interests of rural Australians. And I do think it is important that all rural organisations point these things out to Government.

JOURNALIST: Do you think they're doing that, though?

BEAZLEY: Well, I'd like to see a bit more heat placed upon the Government in dealing with these matters. In a number of areas, the Government has got off pretty scot free, and that's one of them.

JOURNALIST: The resignation of John Langmore. Obviously a big blow for the Labor Party?

BEAZLEY: Well, sad to see John go. Terrific position that he's been appointed to in the United Nations and I think it's, in a sense, an honour to the nation that he now becomes the United Nations' most senior Australian official, and I think that's the sort of appointment that would be understood by the electorate, but it does give us the obligation of fighting a by-election.

JOURNALIST: Can you come back to the partial sale of Telstra? You said basically the farmers should be thinking of a second track plan. You obviously don't think it's going to get through?

BEAZLEY: Well, I think that it's in the farmers' interest that it doesn't get through. And I think that the farmers need to start putting the weights on Government to ensure that there is a permanent place for the sorts of programs that seem to be hostage to a one-off bang of a few dollars because there is going to be, for the foreseeable future, an ongoing requirement for those programs. Therefore, I think the farmers ought to say to the Government it's not appropriate to lock up these important rural programs on the sale of Telstra. It is important that you make a commitment to it in the same way as you make a commitment to the defence of the nation.

JOURNALIST: You say, on the other hand, the farmers just don't understand and it's difficult even for a telecommunications minister to understand the impact of privatisation on the services they're going to get in the bush.

BEAZLEY: I don't think it's really fully understood that Telstra performs almost unique tasks in Australia for the bush and that probably, if anything, the community service obligations are underestimated. And that when, in reality, when decisions are taken to put in broadband services to farmers, when they're taken to put in basic services to farmers, that all of a sudden they're going to come up against an economic logic which has seen services to some farms - the cost of putting them in - $30,000 to $40,000. There's no subsidisation process that's going to pick up that sort of thing. Nor even, I would think, a subsidisation process which would pick up more routine connections. I think the farmers are in a lot of trouble on this.

JOURNALIST: You used the term yesterday, 'super underdog'. Would you repeat that in terms of Mr Langmore?

BEAZLEY: Mr Langmore is a super underdog?

JOURNALIST: No, the by-election.

BEAZLEY: Oh, the by-election. I think in the case of the by-election that will now be necessary in Canberra that we will have to fight hard, but we will fight on a number of issues, and the treatment of Canberra will be one of them. I don't think there's any question at all that this Government has had in mind the persecution of this city and has carried it through with ruthlessness.

JOURNALIST: Where will you turn around the Lindsay by-election?

BEAZLEY: Well, we'll have to campaign by-election by by-election, issues by issues. I think the first thing that we'll need to do is to explain what was a legitimate reason for the by-election to be created in this instance, and that is the sort of appointment which reflects honour on the politician concerned and which has been the type of rationale, if you like, for by-elections to have regularly occurred in the past. Now, it's important for us to make that point - that nothing going on here is lackadaisical. It's an honour for this nation and it's an honour for Mr Langmore that he's had such an appointment. I do think, in fact, in Canberra that will probably be more easily understood than elsewhere in the country.

JOURNALIST: But it will be a big fight, though?

BEAZLEY: Oh, it will be a fight, yeah. There's no question about that. The Government has enjoyed a surge of popularity since the last election. We would say very much undeserved. That middle Australia has borne the brunt of their changes and that they have rendered a good economy sluggish. And, in rendering a good economy sluggish, they're destroying jobs and opportunity. But this is a point that we're yet to get across to the people.

JOURNALIST: So this shouldn't be viewed by other Labor politicians who might want to seek greener pastures as the window of opportunity to jump off as well?

BEAZLEY: For my own part, I think there is an obligation on me, having gone to the electorate at the last election, to serve my term. I consider that a personal moral obligation on myself, and that to walk away from that obligation I would need to have very, very good cause. And this is a view that I would expect all my Labor colleagues to hold. I think if you look appropriately at the dimensions of the particular appointment that Mr Langmore has received that it's not an unreasonable judgement on his part.

JOURNALIST: Sure, but I'm just asking whether, if there are others in the Party who might like to resign at some stage during the term, whether this would be a window of opportunity for them.

BEAZLEY: Well, I would tell them, any members of the Party, that they have an obligation to the Party and to their electors, and that obligation requires a very, very good reason to go, and there aren't many of them around.

JOURNALIST: In terms of Native Title, you're signalling that you basically support the substance of the amendments put up by the Coalition?

BEAZLEY: We have always said that we want a workable Act and we will always support amendments that make the Act workable. That has been our position in the past and it continues to be our position, and I do believe that it is possible to get such an outcome from the plethora of amendments that the Government has been putting in place. We say to the Government we won't support anything that knocks over the Racial Discrimination Act, and we also point out to them that were they even to be successful in that regard then all they'll do is invite, via common law processes, potential claimants to walk around the Act. And that would be disastrous in terms of bogging down these processes for years to come.

JOURNALIST: So you say the NFF's position, that there should be legislation to extinguish native title on pastoral leases, would never get up. It would never be supported by you?

BEAZLEY: Well, I think they need to be careful. We believe the legislation has done that, OK. That's our belief and until, or unless, the High Court disabuses us of that, we don't think there is a problem there to be addressed. But, were such a problem to occur, then you would have to have regard to the extent to which common law activity might disrupt any process you chose to put in place on Native Title. So we would urge, at this point of time, until we have reason to disbelieve it, to accept the judgement of the previous government and, I might say, the judgement of this Government, that, in fact, the Act has suppressed, on pastoral leases, Native Title.